Tension Headache


Tension headache is a common condition that can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, depression, and muscle tension.

It’s important to understand that these headaches can be either chronic or episodic. Chronic conditions occur more frequently, often daily, for extended periods, while episodic ones are less frequent, occurring in clusters.

Most commonly, tension headaches are caused by muscle tension in the head or neck, resulting from stress, poor posture, trauma, or a musculoskeletal condition. Physical symptoms can include a tight band sensation across the forehead, muscle tenderness in the scalp and neck, and a bilateral headache that is mild to moderate in pain and non-pulsating in nature. Other triggers can be eyestrain, caffeine withdrawal, and sleep disturbances.

Several treatments are available for tension headaches, including medication, physiotherapy, and acupuncture. Over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin can provide temporary relief, while prescription medicines such as amitriptyline and propranolol can help manage symptoms over the long term. Alternative treatments such as physiotherapy and acupuncture have also effectively treated these headaches.

Symptoms and Triggers of Tension Headache

Symptoms and Triggers of Tension Headache
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If you are unsure whether you are suffering from a tension headache or not, this section will help you identify the symptoms and triggers associated with this type of headache. Knowing these can help you take timely action to prevent and manage the condition.

Symptoms of Tension Headache

Tension headaches can cause mild to moderate pain that feels like a tight band around your head. The pain is non-pulsating and usually felt on both sides of the head. Other symptoms include:

  • Scalp tenderness
  • Tight band sensation around the forehead, temples, or back of the head
  • Muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and jaw
  • Cervicalgia (neck pain that can radiate to the head)

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause of your headache.

Triggers of Tension Headache

The triggers of tension headaches can vary from person to person, but some common ones include:

  • Stress and emotional tension
  • Mental fatigue
  • Muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and jaw caused by poor posture or physical exhaustion
  • Eyestrain from prolonged computer use or reading
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Sleep disturbances

If you’re suffering from this headache, identifying your triggers can help you take steps to prevent or manage them. Discuss with your healthcare provider to see if any specific treatment would be helpful in your case.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Tension Headaches

If you are experiencing chronic or severe headaches, seeking medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment is important. A physical examination and clinical history are crucial for the correct differential diagnosis of tension headaches.

Physical Examination and Imaging Studies

During the physical examination, your doctor will look for signs of muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and jaw and any tenderness in the scalp or surrounding areas. Imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scans, may be used to rule out other underlying conditions.


Diagnosis and Treatment of Tension Headaches
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Medications are often used to treat tension headaches, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, paracetamol, or ibuprofen. Prescription medications may also be recommended, such as amitriptyline or propranolol, to help prevent them and reduce their severity.

Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies, such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, and biofeedback, can also help manage tension headache symptoms. These therapies reduce muscle tension, relieve stress, and promote relaxation.

Rebound Headaches

It is important to note that medication overuse can lead to rebound headaches, so it is essential to follow your doctor’s instructions and avoid overusing medication.


Prevention strategies for tension headaches include patient education on stress management and pain management techniques, exercise, ergonomics, and diet modification. Maintaining good posture, taking frequent breaks from prolonged sitting or screen time, and staying hydrated can also help prevent them.

Management and Prevention of Tension Headaches

Dealing with tension headaches can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help ease the pain and prevent headaches from occurring in the first place. Here are some tips:

1. Patient education

It’s important to be educated about tension headaches and what triggers them. By understanding the cause of your headaches, you can learn how to avoid them in the future. Your healthcare provider can provide information and resources to help you learn more about them and how to manage them.

2. Stress management

Stress is a major cause of tension headaches, so managing stress is crucial in preventing them. There are various techniques to reduce stress, including meditation, deep breathing, and yoga. Try to identify and address the root cause of your stress, and find ways to relax and unwind regularly.

3. Pain management

Pain management techniques can help reduce the severity of your symptoms if you suffer from chronic tension headaches. Over-the-counter medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or paracetamol can help relieve mild to moderate pain. Prescription medication such as amitriptyline, propranolol, or other types of medication may be recommended by your healthcare provider if over-the-counter medication is not effective.

4. Exercise

Regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of tension headaches. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers that can help relieve pain. Engage in low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, or cycling for at least 30 minutes a day, several days a week.

5. Ergonomics

Poor posture can trigger tension headaches, so ensuring your workspace is ergonomically designed can help reduce the risk of headaches. Make sure your chair is comfortable and provides adequate back support, and that your computer monitor is at eye level.

6. Diet

Management and Prevention of Tension Headaches
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Your diet can also play a role in tension headaches. Avoid skipping meals or eating junk food, as this can trigger headaches. Instead, eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Drinking plenty of water can also help prevent headaches.

Everyone’s triggers and symptoms are different, so it’s important to find what works best for you. If you are experiencing frequent or severe tension headaches, consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tension Headache

How do you get rid of a tension headache?

Tension headaches, the most common type of headache, can often be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Non-drug treatments can also be effective, including stress management, relaxation techniques (like deep breathing or yoga), heat or cold applied to the head or neck, regular exercise, and ensuring you get enough sleep. In chronic cases, prescription medications or therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy may be recommended. Always consult with a healthcare provider for an appropriate treatment plan.

What can trigger tension headaches?

Various factors can trigger tension headaches, including stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, skipping meals, poor posture, eye strain, dehydration, and certain foods or drinks like caffeine or alcohol. It’s also noted that some people may have a heightened sensitivity to pain, making them more susceptible.

How do I know it’s a tension headache?

Tension headaches are usually characterized by a dull, aching sensation all over the head, often described as a tight band around the forehead or pressure at the back of the head and neck. Unlike migraines, they typically don’t cause nausea or vomiting and are not usually worsened by physical activity. However, everyone’s experience can be different, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

How long do tension headaches usually last?

Tension headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a full week. The frequency and duration can vary greatly among individuals. Some people may experience episodic ones which occur less than 15 days a month for three months. Others may have chronic conditions that occur more than 15 days a month for at least three months. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider if your headaches are persistent, severe, or affecting your quality of life.